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CONFUSING THE EROGATE WITH THE SUPEREROGATE

November 17, 2012

I was recently driving home from a business trip.  I was listening to a podcast by Econtalk  regarding John Locke and the rationing attempts following Hurricane Sandy. They used an example to explain a couple of words that I was not familiar with; erogate and supererogate .

 The example was to suppose that you have a life ring and you see a person drowning.  You know that you can throw the life ring and save that person.  You will be able to get your life ring back so that there is no significant expense to yourself. It is a pretty horrible person who would refuse to exert the effort and expense of throwing a life ring to a drowning person because that is an erogatory task. A moral person is obliged to do this type of task. It is a reasonable and normal duty that we owe our fellow human beings.

 Now, let’s suppose that you do not have a life ring and there are riptides and other strong currents that have trapped this drowning person.  You decide to swim out to this person and rescue them at great personal risk to your own life. That is a supererogatory task.  That response exceeds what is expected of a normal moral person.   

 These words and this example got me to think about Romans 10:14

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Romans 10:14  

I think that we consider sharing our faith as a supererogatory act.  However, there is typically no great personal risk. Our lives don’t hang in the balance. There is no great expense to our finances. Yet, their eternal condition is just as perilous as the drowning person in our example.  Telling someone what Christ means to you is not responding beyond what is required or expected, when you consider the unbelievers plight. It is an erogatory task. It is our duty as reasonable moral people.

 Someone may counter with the argument that the person doesn’t know that they are drowning; they don’t believe in God or hell. However, I believe in hell. I believe that the only means to escape condemnation and eternal punishment is through Christ’s work on the cross where he condemned sin in the flesh. That is the life ring that I have to throw. My decision to throw that life ring is not dependent upon whether the person will catch it. I have no control over that. Therefore, my speaking the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is still an erogatory task for me. It is my normal and reasonable duty, based on what I believe, to evangelize.

What kind of person am I if I were to refuse? I think this video by Penn Jillete puts the Christian’s erogatory duty into perspective.

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